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Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai

Shunryu Suzuki
Mel Weitsman
Michael Wenger
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 199
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  • Book Info
    Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness
    Book Description:

    When Shunryu Suzuki Roshi'sZen Mind, Beginner's Mindwas published in 1972, it was enthusiastically embraced by Westerners eager for spiritual insight and knowledge of Zen. The book became the most successful treatise on Buddhism in English, selling more than one million copies to date.Branching Streams Flow in the Darknessis the first follow-up volume to Suzuki Roshi's important work. LikeZen Mind, Beginner's Mind, it is a collection of lectures that reveal the insight, humor, and intimacy with Zen that made Suzuki Roshi so influential as a teacher. TheSandokai-a poem by the eighth-century Zen master Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian)-is the subject of these lectures. Given in 1970 at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the lectures are an example of a Zen teacher in his prime elucidating a venerated, ancient, and difficult work to his Western students. The poem addresses the question of how the oneness of things and the multiplicity of things coexist (or, as Suzuki Roshi expresses it, "things-as-it-is"). Included with the lectures are his students' questions and his direct answers to them, along with a meditation instruction. Suzuki Roshi's teachings are valuable not only for those with a general interest in Buddhism but also for students of Zen practice wanting an example of how a modern master in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition understands this core text today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93623-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger
    (pp. 1-10)
    Mel Weitsman

    In the summer of 1970 Suzuki Roshi gave these talks on theSandokaiof Sekito Kisen. Suzuki Roshi had come to America in 1959, leaving Rinso-in, his temple in Yaizu, Japan, to serve as priest for the Japanese-American congregation at Sokoji temple at 1881 Bush Street in San Francisco. During those years a large number of people came to practice with him, and San Francisco Zen Center was born. Suzuki Roshi became surrounded by so many enthusiastic American Zen students that in 1969 he and his students moved to a large building at 300 Page Street and established Beginner’s Mind...

    (pp. 11-16)
    Michael Wenger

    Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian, 700–790), author of theSandokai, was born in Guangdong Province in southern China in the beginning of the eighth century. This was a formative era in which Zen was growing in popularity and was first articulated as a unique school and lineage. Questions about the nature and origins of Zen and the earliest surviving accounts of the First Chinese Zen Ancestor, Bodhidharma (c. 470–543), date from this time.

    It was also during this period that Zen became known for its emphasis on the direct experience of reality and the practice of seated meditation....

    (pp. 17-18)

    Suzuki Roshi used several English translations of theSandokaithat were available at that time—mainly those by R. H. Blyth and Reiho Masunaga—and he translated directly from the Chinese characters as well. So his commentary does not fit with or match any one translation exactly. We have included in this text (page 20) the English translation from the Soto-Shu (Soto-School) Liturgy Conference held at Green Gulch Farm, Sausalito, California in 1997, with some revisions. We have also found no perfect translation for the title of theSandokai. The title proposed by the Soto-Shu Liturgy Conference is “The Harmony...

    (pp. 20-24)

    The mind of the great sage of India

    is intimately transmitted from west to east.

    While human faculties are sharp or dull,

    the way has no Northern or Southern Ancestors.

    The spiritual source shines clear in the light;

    the branching streams flow on in the dark.

    Grasping at things is surely delusion;

    according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

    All the objects of the senses

    interact and yet do not.

    Interacting brings involvement.

    Otherwise, each keeps its place.

    Sights vary in quality and form,

    sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.

    Refined and common speech come together in the dark,


  8. FIRST TALK Things-As-It-Is
    (pp. 25-36)

    I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about theSandokai, one of our most important teachings. Its mode of expression is so smooth that you may not feel its deep meaning when you read it. The author of this poem, Sekito Kisen (or Sekito Musai Daishin, his posthumous name), is the dharma grandson of the Sixth Chinese Ancestor, Daikan Eno (in Chinese, Dajian Huineng), and the direct descendent of Seigen Gyoshi (Ch. Qingyuan Xingsi), who is considered the Seventh Ancestor. Among the Sixth Ancestor’s many disciples, the most prominent were Seigen Gyoshi and Nangaku Ejo. Later, Master Tozan...

  9. SECOND TALK Warm Hand to Warm Hand
    (pp. 37-48)

    In my first talk I explained the meaning of the title,Sandokai, and the first line, “The mind of the great sage of India.” I would like to tell you about the background of this poem and why the Eighth Ancestor in China, Sekito Musai Daishin, wrote it.

    When Daiman Konin, the Fifth Ancestor, announced that he was going to give dharma transmission to someone, all the monks thought that, among them, of course Jinshu would be the one to receive the transmission. Jinshu was a great scholar, and he later went to northern China and became a great teacher....

  10. THIRD TALK Buddha Is Always Here
    (pp. 49-60)

    “The spiritual source shines clear in the light.” The source is something wonderful, something beyond description, beyond our words. What Buddha talked about is the source of the teaching, beyond discrimination of right and wrong. This is important. Whatever your mind can conceive is not the source itself. The source is something that only a buddha knows. Only when you practice zazen do you have it. Yet whether you practice or not, whether you realize it or not, something exists, even before our realization of it, that is the source. It is not something you can taste. The true source...

  11. FOURTH TALK The Blue Jay Will Come Right into Your Heart
    (pp. 61-72)

    In the last talk I explained how people stick toji, “things.” That is usual. The characteristic of Buddha’s teaching is to go beyond things—beyond various beings, ideas, and material things. When we say “truth,” we usually mean something we can figure out. The truth that we can figure out or think about isji. When we go beyond subjective and objective worlds, we come to the understanding of the oneness of everything, the oneness of subjectivity and objectivity, the oneness of inside and outside.

    For instance, when you sit zazen you are not thinking about anything or watching...

  12. FIFTH TALK Today We May Be Very Happy, and the Next Day We Don’t Know What Will Happen to Us
    (pp. 73-82)

    Everything has its own nature and form, and when you hear a voice it is either agreeable or disagreeable. Here theSandokaiis talking about sights and sounds, but the same is true for of all the senses, as well as the mind. There are good and bad tastes, good and bad feelings, agreeable and disagreeable ideas. It is our attachment to them that creates suffering. When you hear something good you will enjoy it. When you hear something bad you will be annoyed or disturbed. But if you understand reality completely you will not be bothered by things. The...

  13. SIXTH TALK The Boat Is Always Moving
    (pp. 83-94)

    According to Buddhist thought, the four elements are fire, wind, water, and earth. Though not a perfect description, we say that these four elements each have their own nature. The nature of fire is to purify. Wind brings things to maturity. I don’t know why, but wind-nature encourages things to be more mature. Wind has a more organic activity, while the activity of fire is more chemical. The nature of water is to contain things. Wherever you go there is water; water contains everything. This is opposite to the usual way of thinking about water. Instead of saying there is...

  14. SEVENTH TALK Without Any Idea of Attainment, Just to Sit Is Our Way
    (pp. 95-108)

    In my last lecture I explained the meaning of the independency of everything. Although things are interdependent with respect to each other, at the same time, each being is independent. When each being includes the whole world, then each being is actually independent.

    Sekito was talking about the nature of reality at a time when most people, forgetting all about this point, were judging which school of Zen was right or wrong. That is why Sekito Zenji wrote this poem. Here he is talking about reality from the viewpoint of independency. The Southern school is independent and the Northern school...

  15. EIGHTH TALK Within Light There Is Utter Darkness
    (pp. 109-120)

    First I will talk about the two termsmeiandan, “light” and “darkness.” Light means the relative, dualistic world of words, the thinking world, the visible world in which we live. Darkness refers to the absolute, where there is no exchange value or materialistic value or even spiritual value—the world that our words and thinking mind cannot reach. Living in the realm of duality, we must have a good understanding of the absolute, which we may think of as a deity. But in Buddhism we do not have any particular idea about a deity. The absolute is the...

  16. NINTH TALK The Willow Tree Cannot Be Broken by the Snow
    (pp. 121-134)

    We are still talking about reality from the viewpoint of independency. Dependency and independency are actually two sides of one coin.

    People may say that the Japanese are very tough. But that is just one side of the Japanese personality. The other side is softness. Because of their Buddhist background, they have been trained that way for a long time. The Japanese people are very kind.

    We have a children’s song that describes a hero called Momotaro, the Peach Boy. There was an old couple who lived near the riverside. One day the old woman picked up a peach from...

  17. TENTH TALK Suffering Is a Valuable Thing
    (pp. 135-146)

    Now I would like to talk about how we observe things, how we should treat things, and how we understand the value of things. “Each of the myriad things has its merit, expressed according to function and place”—Bammotsu onozukara ko ari, masani yo to sho to wo iu beshi. The myriad things (bammotsu) include human beings, mountains and rivers, stars and planets. Everything has its own function, virtue, or value. When we say “value,” usually we mean exchange value. But here value has a wider meaning, for which we use the wordko.Kodoes not mean “function” or...

    (pp. 147-150)

    You should sit with your whole body: your spine, mouth, toes,mudra.* Check on your posture during zazen. Each part of your body should practice zazen independently or separately: your toes should practice zazen independently, and yourmudrashould practice zazen independently, and your spine and your mouth should practice zazen independently. You should feel each part of your body doing zazen independently. Each part of your body should participate completely in zazen. Check to see that each part of your body is doing zazen independently—this is also known asshikantaza. To think “I am doing zazen” or “my...

  19. ELEVENTH TALK We Should Not Stick to Words or Rules Too Much
    (pp. 151-160)

    “Hearing the words, understand the meaning”—Koto wo uke te wa subekaraku shu wo esu beshi.Kotomeans “words.”Kotoalso includes everything: words, things, and ideas that we see or hear.Uke temeans “to receive” or “to listen to.”Shuis “the source of teaching,” which is beyond words. When you listen to the words, you should understand the source of the teaching. Usually we stick to words, so it is difficult to see the true meaning of the teaching. We say that the words or the teaching is the finger pointing at the moon. Words just suggest...

  20. TWELFTH TALK Do Not Pass Your Days and Nights in Vain
    (pp. 161-176)

    “Practice is not a matter of far or near.” This is very important. When you are involved in selfish practice you have some idea of attainment. When you strive to reach a goal or attain enlightenment, you naturally have the idea “I am far from the goal,” or “I am almost there.” But if you really practice our way, enlightenment is right where you are. This may be rather difficult to accept. When you practice zazen without any idea of attainment, there is actually enlightenment.

    Dogen Zenji explained that in self-centered practice, there is enlightenment and there is practice: practice...

  21. TALK GIVEN TO A VISITING CLASS We Are Just a Tiny Speck of Big Being
    (pp. 177-189)

    The purpose of the study of Buddhism is to have a perfect understanding of things, to understand ourselves and what we are doing in our everyday life. It is also necessary to understand why we suffer and why we have so much conflict in our society, in our families, and within ourselves—in other words, to understand what is going on in the objective and subjective realms. If we see things-as-it-is, and if we are aware of what we are doing and have a good understanding, we will know what we should do. This is the intellectual study of Buddhism,...

    (pp. 190-191)

    The mind of the great sage of India

    was handed down closely from west to east.

    People may discriminate the dull from the keen,

    but in the true way there is no Ancestor of North or South.

    The true source is pure and stainless.

    The branch streams flow in the dark.

    Clutching at things is delusion.

    To recognize the truth is not always enlightenment either.

    The five sense gates and the five sense objects

    are interdependent and absolutely independent;

    interrelated endlessly,

    yet each stays in its own position.

    Things have various natures, various forms.

    There is good and bad taste,...

    (pp. 192-196)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)